Gynecologic cancers affect any area of the female reproductive organs (uterus, cervix, ovaries, vulva). For 2017, the American Cancer Society estimates more than 100,000 new cases of gynecologic cancer and more than 31,000 deaths. Luckily these organs are either visible or can give early symptoms of pre-cancer and cancer.
For women of child-bearing years, abnormal periods are more commonly related to non-cancer disease but can also by an early sign of cancer. For menopausal women, any abnormal bleeding coming from the vagina should be considered abnormal. If you face any of the following symptoms, mention it to your gynecologist, primary care physician or any regular doctor you visit:
- Pain or pressure in the pelvic area
- Unusual vaginal discharge or bleeding
- Frequent abdominal bloating or swelling
- A sore in the genital area that does not heal
Many gynecologic cancers can be cured, but a delay in diagnosis can make cure more difficult. Know your body and what is normal for you so that you can recognize what is not normal. The thought of cancer is scary but prevention with regular, annual check-ups and early diagnosis as soon as symptoms appear are your best allies.
What can you do to prevent cancer? Know if you have a family history of gynecologic cancer – or any cancer – and share that knowledge with your doctor. Adopt a healthy lifestyle – eat nutritious foods in moderation and engage in physical activity. You can prevent cervical cancer by having regular Pap smears starting at age 21 and by getting the HPV vaccine for yourself and your child. Ask your doctor and your child's pediatrician if the vaccine is appropriate for you and your family.
While concerns regarding your gynecologic health may be a bit embarrassing to discuss with your doctor, be proactive and ask questions – it just may save your life.